The five-tier popular-democratic structure of governance sketched in this column in the first three Thursdays of this year under the title Restructuring under popular democracy was proposed without illusions. Put differently, it was not, and still is not, part of my hope that Nigeria’s rulers in different mainstream political parties and other power-bloc formations would rush to embrace and adopt the proposal and work towards its realisation. Because of what they may smell as a threat to their political hegemony and power of primitive accumulation, the power-bloc parties would not rush to the proposal – even if some of their members, as individuals, genuinely feel that, if adopted, the structure could contribute to solving some of the more “intractable” problems of their rulership.
However, it was, and still is, my expectation that elements, segments and tendencies within these ruling class parties and formations, together with radical, patriotic and truly progressive forces in society at large, would see the five-tier popular-democratic structure as deserving of consideration and then begin to do that which is necessary. It is only by considering the proposal that the real issues and questions it throws up – many of which may not even have occurred to me – would be uncovered, debated and resolved. In this sense, the 5-tier proposal is, even to me, a mere draft.
A little less than seven years ago, on February 16, 2006, this column carried my piece The collective presidency. At that time, the main question in ruling class politics was, as it is now, the next location of the country’s presidency expected to be vacated by the incumbent president, General Olusegun Obasanjo, on May 29, 2007. It was at the height of the manouvering by the president and his workmen and women to elongate the president’s second (and final) term, or go in for a third term.
My proposal on the location and movement of the presidency, via collective presidency, was essentially what I repeated in my last series except in two respects: Whereas in 2006 I proposed the use of the current six-zone structure for the constitution of the collective presidency, I now advocate an 8-region structure derived from the present six by splitting each of the current South-south and North-central zones into two; and secondly, I did not, in 2006, as I have done now, relate the “collective presidency” proposal to the geopolitical restructuring of the polity as a whole.
The collective presidency (2006) gave the following reasons for the suggestion: “First, to resolve, in the interim, the question of distribution of ‘federal power’ between various claimants, and perhaps, by doing so, save the country from being plunged into greater chaos whose victims will be the long-suffering, impoverished and defrauded masses. Second, to resolve the question of ‘fiscal and true federalism’ and ‘resource control’, also in the interim. And thirdly, to create the minimum framework for the popular masses to enhance their struggle and ameliorate their present material conditions. I hasten to add, however, that if the masses are not organised and mobilised, they cannot take advantage of even the most favourable political conjuncture. Conjunctures will come and go”. These three reasons I called “minimum objectives”.
In that 2006 article I threw the following challenge: “the mathematician-cum-political scientist who can produce a general acceptable formula for the movement of the presidency deserves a Nobel Prize. And if, in addition, he or she can obtain a consensus on the starting point for this movement, then a bigger prize will be required”. It appears I am now vying for the prize!
The three “minimum objectives” listed in 2006 have now been strengthened; but the “minimum” and “framework” elements remain. In other words, the suggestions made – in 2006 as well as now – are not the “end of history” and, in fact, are not solutions themselves for our problems, but “framework” for solutions. For the ruling blocs and classes what has been offered is a framework for resolving their crises in the interim; and, for the popular masses, it is a framework for strengthening their struggle, organisation and mobilisation, and ameliorating their material conditions. The 8-member collective presidency with rotational headship puts rulership in the hands of all the segments of the ruling class collectively at each point in time, and, simultaneously allows each segment to produce a Head of State for a period of six months in every four years.
I had hoped, as I said in the February 2006 article already referred to, that this restructuring might even allow the “peaceful” emergence of new power blocs! They would then join the other two power blocs that currently exist in the country: the Northern power bloc and the Western power blocs. I now think that the last hope may, after all, be an illusion – for it runs counter to the logic of capitalist competition. Or else the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would have transformed Nigeria into an “economic power.”
Another key difference between the 2006 article and the current series is the central position of the noun, popular democracy and the adjective, popular-democratic, in the latter. The concept of popular democracy was introduced into the revolutionary political lexicon in the 1960s to describe certain forms of people’s struggle against imperialism, neocolonial capitalism and the state in newly-independent nations. These nations were part of the larger community of ‘developing’ or “underdeveloped” nations, most of them organised under the (former) Non- Aligned Movement (NAM).
The popular-democratic struggle seeks to draw in all the social classes and strata and socio-political forces that suffer under the regime of neocolonial capitalism – workers, peasants, students, the youths, intelligentsia, professionals, academics, mass organisations and, indeed, all those groups and individuals that Frantz Fanon described as the “wretched of the earth” and Biodun Jeyifo described as “truly dispossessed, truly marginalised, and truly oppressed” and therefore “truly disaffected”, Karl Marx described them as “the humiliated and the abandoned” who suffer “no particular social injustice, but injustice in general”.
The popular-democratic struggle is not directly or frontally an anti-capitalist struggle. It is only anti-capitalist in its logic and implications clearly demonstrated, for instance, in the anti-poverty, anti-privatisation and anti-commercialisation agitations. The current global struggles against the neoliberal capitalist regime, the “Occupy Movement”, and its associated “Washington Consensus” (the successor to the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), the inauguration of the World Social Forum and the nation-wide anti-subsidy removal protest in Nigeria in January 2012 all define the broad aims of popular democracy and the methods of popular-democratic struggle.
Collaborating and marching together in this particular democratic struggle are people of various ideological and political persuasions and orientations and visions of the society they “wish to see”: revolutionary socialists, capitalist reformers, failed capitalists, “non-ideological” humanists, priests and other “men and women of God’, anarchists, liberals, lumpen proletariat, etc – all united in opposition to poverty, state delinquency and insensitivity, state robbery, oppression, corruption, poverty-induced violence, election-rigging, etc. The popular-democratic movement strives for immediate and, at most, short-term aims. The character of its composition and what some people may see as eclecticism in its programme, as well as the cohabitation, in a single formation, of diverse ideological currents make long-term, or even medium-term, objectives impossible.
I have, at some points in the course of this presentation, indicated that my five-level geopolitical restructuring naturally raises several questions – some obvious to me and some, perhaps, still unknown to me, which have to be properly and concretely articulated and answered. Every solution to any of such concrete questions becomes a refinement of the proposed structure. Among the questions that immediately hit me as I finished the draft of my last week’s piece are the following: Why are the eight regions grossly unequal in size, in population and in the number of states that constitute them? How do you reconcile collective presidency with the multi-party system, which is a national political consensus and truly “national” parties, which many advocate? If we take Neighbourhood Organisations as sites for grassroots democracy (or democracy at the grassroots) how do we reconcile the system with traditional rulership?
Furthermore, although I have insisted that the cost of running the proposed five-tier popular-democratic structure would be far less than the cost of maintaining the present three-tier structure, the assertion may need to be demonstrated more strongly. The last problem that “ruffles” me at this stage is: How do we deal with the expected contradictions between the proposed popular-democratic restructuring and neoliberal capitalism? It is clear, for instance, that the contract system is incompatible with the mobilisational and “mass-participation” objectives of the Neigbhbourhood Organisations. In any case, the contract system cannot be sustained financially at that level of governance. These questions and several others demand solutions.
However, unlike a mathematical problem to which one person, sitting alone, can produce a “complete solution”, a person may propose a solution to a social question but only the mass than solve it.
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